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US says Libya should prioritise working towards elections
22 December 2021, 1:45 PM

The US ambassador to Libya on Wednesday voiced “disappointment” at the delay of Friday’s planned election and said “work towards elections should be a priority in line with strong public desires”.

The ambassador added in a statement on social media that Libyan leaders “should expeditiously address all legal and political obstacles to hold elections, including finalising the list of presidential candidates”.

Liverpool’s Keita named in Guinea squad for Cup of Nations
21 December 2021, 7:52 PM

Guinea have included Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita in their extended 27-man squad for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon next month as they became the first team to name their final selection on Tuesday.

Keita is likely to be the first of three players from the title-chasing Anfield club to be selected for the January 9-February 6 competition along with Egyptian forward Mo Salah and Senegal striker Sadio Mane.

Former Arsenal forward Kaba Diawara recently replaced Frenchman Didier Six as Guinea coach and has also selected the brother of Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba. Defender Florentin plays for Sochaux in the French second tier.

Keita is likely to come up against Mane, with Guinea drawn in Group B at the finals alongside Senegal, Zimbabwe and Malawi. They will be heavily fancied to make the second round.

The Nations Cup finals have been under threat with concerns raised over a lack of organisation, incomplete building work and coronavirus outbreaks among the large number of players and staff set to descend on Cameroon in the next few weeks.

But Confederation of African Football president Patrice Motsepe has said he expects the finals to go ahead as planned.

Guinea squad:

Goalkeepers: Aly Keita (Ostersund, Sweden), Ibrahima Kone (Hibernians, Malta), Moussa Camara (Horoya, Guinea)

Defenders: Saidou Sow (St Etienne, France), Ibrahima Conte (Niort, France), Florentin Pogba (Sochaux, France), Ousmane Kante (Paris FC, France), Mohamed Aly Camara (Young Boys, Switzerland), Pa Konate (Botev Plovdiv, Bulgaria), Issiaga Sylla (Toulouse, France), Antoine Conte (Universitatea Craiova, Romania), Mikael Dyrestam (Sarpsborg 08, Norway)

Midfielders: Amadou Diawara (Roma, Italy), Ibrahima Cisse (Seriang, Belgium), Mory Konate (Sint-Truidense, Belgium), Ibrahima Sory Conte (Bnei Sakhnin, Israel), Ilaix Moriba (RB Leipzig), Mamadou Kane (Neftci, Azerbaijan), Morlaye Sylla (Horoya, Guinea), Aguibou Camara (Olympiacos, Greece), Naby Keita (Liverpool, England)

Forwards: Seydouba Soumah (Kuwait SC, Kuwait), Morgan Guilavogui (Paris FC, France), Mamadou Diallo (Grenoble, France), Jose Kante (Kairat, Kazakhstan), Mohamed Bayo (Clermont France), Sory Kaba (OH Leuven, Belgium)

UK offers 1 billion pounds to firms hit hardest by Omicron
21 December 2021, 6:27 PM

Britain announced on Tuesday 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) of extra support for businesses hit hardest by the wave of Omicron variant coronavirus cases, which is hammering the country’s hospitality sector and other businesses.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak said he was confident the measures would help hundreds of thousands of businesses. But he added that he would “respond proportionately and appropriately” if the government were to impose further restrictions to slow Omicron.

For now, hospitality businesses in England are not subject to any new legal restrictions despite a 60% surge in COVID-19 cases over the past week which has taken the number of infections to around 90 000 a day.

Bars and restaurants in Scotland will be restricted to table service only from December 26.

Under the support announced on Tuesday, hospitality and leisure businesses in England will be eligible for grants of up to 6 000 pounds for each of their premises, accounting for almost 700 million pounds of the new package.

The grants were equivalent to those provided to hospitality businesses when they were fully closed this year, the finance ministry said.

But unlike earlier in the pandemic, there will be no extra government help for workers who lose their jobs or have their hours cut. Britain’s finance ministry said job vacancies were 50% higher than before the pandemic.

A fund to support cultural organisations would be boosted by 30 million pounds, while 100 million pounds would go to English local authorities for business support measures and 150 million pounds to governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

On top of the 1 billion pounds, the finance ministry said it would cover the cost of statutory sick pay for COVID-related absences, for up to two weeks per employee, for small and medium-sized companies across the United Kingdom.

Britain borrowed more than 300 billion pounds in the last financial year to help offset the hit to the economy from coronavirus and the government’s lockdowns.

TIGHTER RULES TO COME?

Asked about the likelihood of more restrictions, Sunak said the situation was too uncertain to know the path ahead.

“What the prime minister said is that we’re reviewing the data day by day, hour by hour, keeping the situation under constant review but can’t rule anything out,” he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he was looking at all kinds of measures to keep Omicron under control, cautioning that further restrictions might be needed.

Figures from trade body UKHospitality published on Monday showed a 40% fall in takings over the weekend and deep gloom about the prospects for New Year’s Eve.

“This is a generous package building on existing hospitality support measures to provide an immediate emergency cash injection for those businesses who, through no fault of their own, have seen their most valuable trading period annihilated,” UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said.

However, the lack of help for workers in the hospitality sector was criticised by the Resolution Foundation think tank, which said low-paid workers losing their jobs would suffer a 70% drop in income, compared with a 20% fall under furlough.

“The scale of support to firms is sufficient only for a best-case scenario of a flash wave (of Omicron), while the lack of fresh support for workers leaves many at risk of major income falls in the weeks ahead,” Resolution Foundation chief economist Mike Brewer said.

Libyan candidates talk and militias mobilise as crisis deepens
21 December 2021, 5:32 PM

Libya’s political crisis deepened on Tuesday as some presidential candidates met in Benghazi to discuss how to tackle a collapsing electoral process that was meant to help end a decade of violence and chaos.

The meeting is the most prominent of several rounds of backroom talks over recent days between candidates, factions and foreign powers about delaying the vote and whether an interim government can meanwhile continue in power.

Rival armed groups mobilised in Tripoli early on Tuesday, closing roads in the south of the capital, with schools phoning parents to pick up their children.

The presidential election was meant to take place this Friday, but without any clear agreement on rules, and with bitter disputes over the eligibility of major candidates, the process has stalled and cannot go ahead.

Hadi al-Sagheer, head of parliament’s election committee, said by phone the vote would have to be delayed because there was no longer time to carry out preparatory steps, though no postponement has yet been formally announced.

Candidates, factions and foreign powers involved in Libya are discussing the length of a delay, whether basic changes need to be made to rules and the vote’s legal basis, and whether to replace the interim government or form a breakaway administration.

The group meeting in Benghazi, including eastern commander Khalifa Haftar and the former interior minister Fathi Bashagha from Misrata, are aligned against the interim prime minister, Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, who is a rival candidate.

The interim government and the election process were created last year under a U.N.-backed roadmap to end the turmoil that followed the NATO-backed uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

Dbeibah had promised when he was appointed not to run for office. His opponents say he should not run in the election because he has been able to use state spending to attract votes.

Haftar’s candidacy is controversial in western areas after his 14-month assault on Tripoli from 2019-20, which destroyed much of the city. Another prominent candidate, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, is also unacceptable to many Libyans.

DISPUTES

Security tensions in Tripoli, where armed groups have surrounded major state buildings since last week, show the risks of the political crisis aggravating existing disputes among rival military forces.

While the rows are primarily local at present, major groups with footholds in various cities of western Libya are taking sides in the crisis, meaning any clashes could rapidly spread.

“At this stage it’s more of a local dynamic about dislodging enemies and capturing land,” said Emadeddin Badi, a Libya analyst with the Atlantic Council.

“But it could evolve into something a lot bigger,” he said, after alliances and rivalries among factions had crystallised over recent months.

“I left my home this morning and found myself among dozens of military vehicles,” said Mohammed Ali, a 40-year old state employee in the Ain Zara district of Tripoli.

“My sister phoned me to ask her to pick her up from school because the principal told all parents to collect their children,” he said. “If there are no elections, there will be a war.”

UK’s Truss says: nothing has changed in Brexit talks after Frost quit
21 December 2021, 5:10 PM

Britain’s foreign minister Liz Truss, thrust into post-Brexit talks with Brussels after the resignation of Brexit minister David Frost, said London’s position remained unchanged and the process needed to speed up in the New Year.

“Our preference remains to reach an agreed solution,” Truss said after a first online meeting with her European Union counterpart Maros Sefcovic on Tuesday.

“If this does not happen we remain prepared to trigger Article 16,” she said, referring to a safeguard measure in the Northern Ireland protocol of the Britain-EU divorce deal.

Following the meeting, Sefcovic said on Twitter: “I’m committed to continue working towards a conclusive understanding with the UK on practical solutions for NI stakeholders. The EU’s position is known. Our goal: stability and predictability.”

Frost quit on Saturday, citing differences with Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the direction of his government.

His departure triggered speculation that London might soon take a different stance in its attempt to renegotiate key parts of its post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

Truss said Britain still wanted to end the role of the European Court of Justice as the final arbiter of disputes, a flashpoint for both sides.

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